Talk us through a typical day of food for you?
I eat a warming breakfast around 8am – my favourites are the ayurvedic classics kitchari, stewed spiced apples or milk rice, perfect for fuelling my digestive fire (‘agni’).
I eat my biggest meal at lunchtime as this is when our digestion is at its strongest so, if eating out with friends, feasting, eating raw or eating meat is in the cards, I try to schedule it for lunchtime for that reason. If I’m at home, I’ll go for a nourishing dish like my lemon, turmeric and black-pepper salmon with spring greens, or a hearty stew like my coconut lentil rasta dal from East by West, which works really well in a Thermos for work too. If I’m out then I’ll look for a soup, stew or cooked vegetable salad.
If I’m in the mood for something sweet, I try to have it before my main meal – so yes, dessert comes first! Through ayurveda you come to understand that the sweet taste should come first for digestive ease – try it, it really works for me! And I can avoid that heavy feeling at the end of a meal.
Supper is eaten as early as my schedule allows, and since my digestion is winding down for bed I avoid anything dampening and heavy like a fridge-cold salad or steak and potatoes and opt for a light and easily digestible supper, like soup or kitchari around 6pm or my beetroot anise millet risotto – then it’s lights out before 10pm! If I have a late night and am peckish when I get in, I’ll make a soothing Golden Milk before bed – much easier to digest than raiding the fridge for anything else.
What do you eat when you’re feeling run down?
Firstly I, honour the tiredness or under-the-weather feeling rather than stoically pushing through it. So if I’ve been travelling a lot or have worked a succession of late-night events, I make sure I schedule in the rest I need to recover – that might mean hibernating over a weekend or swapping an evening out with a yin yoga class.
Then, to bring me back in balance, I have something warm and gentle, very easy to digest, like (you guessed it!) kitchari, stewed apples or Golden Milk. If I’m feeling particularly run down, I’ll do my three-day reset so I can start anew with fresh energy. If I’m unable to cook then I’ll choose soups and stews, lots of herbal teas and maybe a fresh pressed carrot juice with ginger and raw honey, sipped and savoured slowly and at room temperature so as not to upset my digestive fire.
Finally, and this might sound boring but it does work wonders, go to bed early.
Do you have a food philosophy?
Over the years I’ve found that ayurveda, an ancient health philosophy, offers the answers to my questions. At the same time, functional medicine, science and the wellbeing movement are recognising shared benefits of this health system. Ayurveda has been tackling mental and spiritual wellbeing as well as physical health for thousands of years, as have other ancient wisdoms — it’s really just different languages explaining the same phenomena of nature and how the world works. Ayurveda, 'the science of life,' is a philosophy I connect with on a deep level. It makes sense and offers me the tools I need to navigate a more intuitive way of living in a technology-driven world, which is how I came to share my passion for it in East by West.
My day-to-day approach to food therefore is something along the lines of 'tune in, cook up, respect and be grateful'! Tune into nature and your nature: only you can truly understand yourself, cook dishes to create a connection and relationship with food as well as make it easier to digest. Respect your digestion, as it’s the key to good health and, finally, be grateful — an attitude of gratitude around the food that you eat not only helps you to be in the present moment when eating (essential for good digestion) but also creates happy vibes around your food and goes a long way toward creating happiness in general!
Tell us more about ayurveda…
Ayurveda is a 5,000-year-old holistic health system that originated in India. Known as the sister science to yoga, it is the wisdom that yoga puts into practice. Ayurveda, which directly translates as the ‘science of life’ (ayu means ‘life’ and Veda means ‘science’ or ‘knowledge’), can help us understand ourselves and the world around us, and maintain the delicate balance of mind, body and spirit through everyday rituals and an all-encompassing approach to life.
It uses the characteristics of the elements, space, air, fire, water and earth, to describe ourselves and the world we live in, and uses three “doshas” to group these characteristics in order to better understand our minds and bodies, as well as what we need to bring us back into balance in our everyday. You can find out what your predisposed characteristics are for your mind-body type and learn more about the doshas by doing the dosha test at JasmineHemsley.com.
How does it benefit all aspects of your life?
Good digestion, and a healthy gut, is all-important to health in ayurveda, something that the western world is only now starting to understand and value. It’s also the starting point – there’s no need to dive deep into ayurveda to enjoy its benefits. Just by understanding and tuning into your gut and digestion and being able to honour its needs by your food and lifestyle choices, half the work is done.
If we eat well (that is, well cooked foods made from local, responsibly sourced ingredients, enjoying our food in a relaxed place and state of mind), we’ll also sleep better, be in a better mood, have more energy and feel overall healthier and happier. Since our lifestyle choices affect our digestion, the wisdom of ayurveda offers a toolbox of methods that we can use to balance out our actions and minimise their disruption to our system.
What always makes you feel good?
Over the years I’ve integrated ayurveda holistically into my life, building on my experiences with it and taking baby steps. I feel so much better all round and enjoy the constantly evolving process. It’s definitely not a quick-fix solution, but it’s one that is very much worth it in the long run. I love being in nature, it really sorts my head out, and hanging out with my dogs, family and friends always releases a decent amount of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’.
I also practice meditation daily. It doesn’t always feel good while you’re actually doing it (I liken it to airing your dirty laundry in private or doing a bit of a spring clean) but afterwards, wow, what a difference. All-consuming problems you might have been carrying around with you all day get put back into perspective which makes decisions so much easier. Then there’s also nothing like getting into bed early to put your world to right – a good night’s sleep works wonders.
Do you change your diet with the seasons?
Yes – eating with the seasons is one of the most obvious ways to align with nature. I look to farmers markets to eat fruit and veg that’s in season as much as I possibly can, or check the origin of the produce in supermarkets; it’s nature’s way of giving us the nutrients we need according to our environment, not to mention it’s much more eco-friendly as the produce doesn’t have to be flown in.
There are also ingredients you can add or use less of to balance out your body temperature – for example coriander, mint and coconut milk are cooling in nature, so great for the summer, while pungent spices like ginger, chilli and black pepper can be put to use for their heating properties in winter. Autumn is a dry time so more oily unctuous foods are usually required and in spring is a time for light, fresh greens like spring greens and baby vegetables. All of this makes sense when you think about the natural produce available.
Most of the year, as someone who needs to balance my vata dosha (because I live in a busy city that is generally cold and it’s also my natural dosha type) I tend to eat home-cooked foods rather than raw. In the summer, I’ll enjoy more raw foods in my diet like fresh fruits and salads.
What’s your failsafe, quick and delicious breakfast?
At least once a week, and especially for guests who love it, I'll knock up the akuri scrambled eggs from East by West — they’re scrambled eggs but better. Deliciously spiced, this dish is super tasty and just as easy. If I know I have an early start or a full day of meetings and events, I prepare the ingredients for a sweet or savoury congee or kitchari the night before and put them in the slow-cooker so they’re all ready to go in the morning. Then I'll pop them into a flask before I run out the door and enjoy them later when my appetite (and I!) have woken up a bit and I'm able to chill out and enjoy it.
And what about dinner?
Dinner is something warm, light and digestible, so that it doesn’t interfere with my sleep. Kitchari is great for dinner, too, but I’ve also got plenty of recipes for soups and other light meals that I like to make for supper. My chicken soup for the soul is a take on the classic, with fluffy chickpea flour dumplings and lots of broth, or I might whip up my ‘hippie comfort food’ – brown lentil, spinach and coconut hotpot.
What are the foods you never eat?
Never say never! In ayurveda, food isn’t about good or bad but what suits you and what you can digest. I intuitively don’t do well on raw foods unless it’s a beautiful summer’s day when I feel drawn to them, I try not to mix raw fruits with other foods since they digest at different rates – dairy in particular (I realised cold pots of yoghurts and fruit just don’t sit well with me, especially living in such a cold country). There are foods I tend to avoid, like tinned, highly-processed, etc. industrially produced meat and dairy, or overdoing nightshade vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes or aubergines, which we know can be inflammatory – but enjoying these from time to time is perfectly OK.
As long as you’re nurturing your digestive fire the vast majority of the time, your digestion will be strong and you’ll be better able to work with less-than-ideal foods. It’s better to eat the odd delicious fish-and-chips than force yourself to make the apparent ‘healthier’ choice of a raw, cold, pre-packed supermarket salad when it’s a cold wet day. I’m definitely one for hot soups over cold juices and smoothies as much as possible. When, where and how you eat is just as important as what.
And the ones that are always in your fridge & kitchen cupboards?
I’m always stocked up on herbs and spices – nature’s medicine cabinet – as well as nourishing everyday staples such as mung dal, basmati rice and quinoa. I have ghee at the ready for cooking eggs, root veggies (great for grounding yourself), apples and whatever seasonal veggies I pick up on the weekends. There’s usually a pot of broth in my slow cooker too. Check out my pantry staples for more.
What about treats?
I have lots of bite-sized sweets recipes in East by West. My favourites include Goldenspoon, a spoonful of honey, coconut oil, turmeric and black pepper that was a smash hit at the East by West pop-up café in 2016, or saffron and almond barfi with pistachios and rose. I also love to make ayurvedic versions of classic desserts and breakfast sweets, like buckwheat banana bread or lemon basil almond drizzle cake. Flavoured with spices and herbs, you soon realise that you can bring the philosophy into your everyday.
You’re not a fan of refined sugar, what are good alternatives?
I’m mad about jaggery! It’s a traditional Indian sweetener made from unrefined cane sugar and comes in blocks of various golden shades (the darkest being the strongest-flavoured). It’s really nutritious and great for digestion, not to mention it can be used both as is or in cooking. I also love maple syrup or raw honey (but never in cooking as it loses its benefits), but jaggery is my everyday sweetener — and it’s much cheaper than the other two.
Your Golden Milk has become one of your hero recipes. Tell us about that and its benefits? How do you make it?
You just have to try Golden Milk to see why I love it so much! It’s made by gently simmering milk (whole dairy or almond) with spices including turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper, and a touch of jaggery. It’s really soothing and can help you sleep or ease you into the day, as well as supporting digestion thanks to its cocktail of spices. PluS, it’s absolutely delicious. I’ve been able to share it at events throughout the past couple of years, but I’m especially excited because my Golden Milk will be served at 52 LEON restaurants across the UK starting 13th September.
What is the biggest myth people believe when it comes to ‘healthy’ eating?
It’s hard to choose just one, because almost everything we think we know about nutrition is a fad. In fact, nutritional science is only 170 years old – a drop in the ocean from all the ancient wisdom that has looked after humans for thousands of years, and how that nutritional science has conflicted and twisted and turned in that time… The biggest problem is that we’ve departed so dramatically from intuitive eating in the west, in many ways thanks to science and the food industry. So many diets, which are based almost solely around losing weight, are restrictive and create an unhealthy relationship with food while failing to educate.
I’m a big believer in fat and fewer raw foods, which might come as a surprise to some. Ayurveda teaches us that healthy eating is a 360 approach – it looks at the mind, body and spirit equally. It’s also a lot more fun and intuitive than calories in and calories out or salads and superfoods! Ayurveda is very much about home-cooked comfort foods and mother nature's medicine cabinet of herbs and spices, which takes care of your digestion.
Once you start to understand how the principles work, it makes so much sense and allows for a little bit of everything, all based around being kind to your body and mind. It’s all about listening to your needs, not following a bunch of often arbitrary rules. When paying attention and observing yourself without judgement, you intuitively know what you need, it’s just that recently we’ve forgotten how to pay attention.
Do you ever drink alcohol? If so, what’s your drink of choice?
Yes, not much, but maybe more than you might think… I’m very happy to be doing a job and living in a time when I don't have to drink to be social and I definitely don’t need to drink to have a good time. I do love wine to compliment certain cuisines – please don’t try to feed me Italian food without a good glass of red! And I’m very happy to drink the odd cocktail now and again since the fashion has changed from sugary sweet ones to taste bud-tingling botanical blends. A Campari cocktail is a favourite on holiday and I love a cider when I go down to Devon to visit family. As soon as I have a busy period in my life or I’m feeling run down it’s no effort to steer clear of alcohol; in fact, it’s become very intuitive.
What about exercise? What’s your workout of choice and how often?
I do a lot of walking with my dogs – sometimes I end up sprinting with them (or after them!) and if I’m on holiday I love to swim in the ocean, but swimming pools don’t hold the same appeal. I avoid anything too intense or cardio-based late in the day as this can leave me feeling wired before bed.
I love all different kinds of yoga but especially the more calming, grounding practices like hatha, yin, relaxation or restorative yoga, which helps rebalance the very ‘yang’ energy of doing (i.e. always being on the go, even if it’s just mentally). I love to do sun salutations as part of my morning routine – five minutes that I can’t talk myself out of sometimes becomes ten as I start to really enjoy it. It really helps me set the tone for the day as well as waking up the whole body and energising me.
East by West by Jasmine Hemsley is published by Bluebird, priced £25
Jasmine Hemsley's East by West Golden Milk launches at LEON on 13th September
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